Archive for the Photography Category

Documentary and Architectural Photography and Video

Posted in documentary, My practice, Photography, Professional Development, Video on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I have added to my website a section of documentary and architectural photography and video, separate from my ‘fine art photography’ projects. This section is not complete yet and each project contain only a few photographs so far. It contains 3 types of photographs:

1) Outtakes from my ‘Ghost House’and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ projects, that show the buildings in a documentary way, but do not have enough aesthetic value to qualify as ‘art’. The difference may not be obvious for anyone but me, but in my main series, the focus is on the creative subjective viewpoint, whereas on those documentary outtakes, the focus is solely on representing the building and my creative input as a photographer is limited to just taking a clear photograph.

2) Photography of building of architectural and/or historical interest.

3) Documentary Photography of Raw Art environments.

In both these last cases, the places are interesting by themselves and the purpose of the photograph is solely to show their architectural features in a clear way, the focus is not on a subjective treatment of them.

I added these sections because, after reading Architectural Photography by Adrian Schulz, I thought that Architectural photography could be a promising way to start taking commercial contracts. I would like to develop this documentary/architectural section as a portfolio showcasing a commercial practice, as opposed to my fine art practice.

On September 5th, I will shoot photographs and a video inside Ketlle Yard’s House in Cambridge. This is a house that used to belong to art collectors and has been turned into a museum, but the artworks are displayed as though it was still a private art lover’s dwelling. I am interested in this space because of the unique way the former owners transformed a functional dwelling into a medium of self expression, as though they remodelled a physical space to be a projection of their inner world, filling it with art representative of their time and the interests of the bohemian social circle they were part of.

When this is done, I will display the photographs and video on my website. Something I would interesting in doing commercially would be to take photographs and videos for interior design companies and publications, and for cultural places and historical monuments, so I decided to try and find interesting buildings to train myself on as unpaid projects first.


Experiment with HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography

Posted in Photography, Photography techniques with tags , on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I experimented with combining a series of 5 photographs identically framed but differently exposed photographs into a HDR picture. I wanted to try HDR for a long time, but I usually use shadows in a creative way in my photographs, and had to wait until I came accross a scene where the shadows and highlights were being annoying rather than interesting.

Exposed at -2

Exposed at -1

Exposed for midtones

Exposed at +1

Exposed at +2

Resulting HDR image.

I tone-mapped the HDR image using a photorealistic preset (as opposed to a high contrast image) then adjusted the curve manually. However, I found the image bland because of the even lighting, even though I do understand the use of it for a documentary picture where the focus should be on clear details throughout. I am used to dramatic shadows in my photographs and started to adjust the curve further, until I realised that I was trying to darken the silhouette of the staircase again, effectively removing the whole purpose of the HDR processing!

Therefore I decided that HDR was not an appropriate creative choice for this particular image, and started again a regular digital post-processing from the image exposed for the midtones.

In Adobe Camera Raw:
– Fill Light: 50 to get the green wall lighter.
– Brightness: +9 to slightly lighten the whole image
– Blacks: +16 to selectively darken the deep shadows.
– Contrast: +25
– Saturation: +8 to make the paint on the wall more vibrant.

Then in Photoshop:
– Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Slightly subdue the highlights on the lit wall: Amount 6% tonal Width 30%. Midtones Contrast -8 so that the green wall appears slightly lighter.
– Reduce Noise.
– No sharpening because it wrecked the ‘fuzzy light’ effect.

The resulting image.

Post-processing and enhancement of photographs (practical examples)

Posted in Disciplinary Institutions, Ghost House, My practice, Photography, Photography techniques on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I have applied the post-processing workflow detailed in the tutorial I wrote to the photographs from my ‘Ghost House’ and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ series.

Most pictures required little adjustments because I took care to expose them correctly. I discovered that my favourite tools to do slight exposure adjustments were either manually adjusting the curve, or doing selective Brightness and Contrast Correction via Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights.

I did some saturation adjustments to some pictures, either on the whole picture or sometimes for a specific colour channel to bring out a specific detail from the composition. For example, for ‘Cellar Door 1’, I brought the saturation up +16 for Yellow and +18 for green. The effect is more over the top than what I usually go for but because this picture is retro-kitsch on purpose, it’s an appropriate choice.



I also straightened the geometry of the corridor shots from the asylums when my tripod was crooked due to uneven floors.



I used light denoising on all pictures. I also use smart sharpening on most pictures, but not on any picture featuring reflections in mirrors, dew on a window or a diffuse, fuzzy light, because sharpening destroyed any of these interesting effects.

I will now detail the workflow I used on the 3 photographs that required the heaviest processing. On most other photographs I processed, while the processing improves print quality, the adjustments are too slight to be noticeable in web quality.

Ghost House III.1


I redid the whole picure after realising that the ‘Dust and scratches’ filter blurred the image rather than really denoise it though it turned out not to make a huge difference on that photograph.

-Lens Correction.
-Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Corrected blown highlights: Amount 60%, Tonal Width 30%, Radius 30px. Midtones contrast +15%.
-Saturation +10.
-Reduce Noise, Despeckle.
-Smart sharpen Amount 50% Radius 5 pixels.


Ghost House III.11


-Lens Correction.
-Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Corrected too dark shadows: Amount 15%, Tonal Width 30%, Radius 30px. Corrected blown highlights: Amount 19%, Tonal Width 30%, Radius 30px. Midtones Contrast +19%.
-Saturation +20.
-Reduce Noise, Despeckle.
-Smart sharpen Amount 50% Radius 5 pixels.




-Lens correction.
-Levels: burn highlights on purpose, they’re just the window.
-Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Burn highlights some more: Amount 100% tonal Width 16%.
Manual Curves.
-Saturation -49 (slightly tinted monochrome)
-Reduce Noise.
-Smart sharpen Amount 50% Radius 5 pixels.


Repeat similar process with similar picture differently exposed for trial.


-Lens correction.
-Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Burn highlights: Amount 100% tonal Width 50%. Lighten shadows: Amount 29% Tonal Width 30%
Manual Curves.
-Saturation -27 (slightly tinted monochrome)
-Reduce Noise.
-Smart sharpen Amount 50% Radius 5 pixels.

The result is similar but there is less glare on the wall. I suspect this is due to the original picture, not the processing. I chose this version for printing.


Technical Tutorial: Digital Photograph Post-Processing Workflow (in Photoshop)

Posted in Photography, Photography techniques on August 28, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

In this tutorial, I have compiled technical tips from two reference books: Digital Exposure Handbook by Ross Hoddinott and Architectural Photography by Adrian Schulz.

This example Workflow is biased towards applications for architectural and interior photography. It’s mostly reusable for general photograph enhancement, but it covers subjects such as perspective corrections, but not skin tone optimisation for example. This is stricly photoshop for photographers and photography enhancement, from RAW conversion to correcting incorrectly exposed or noisy photographs, it does not cover at all how to create designs from several source images.

photography post-processing tutorial in pdf

Photography tutorial (shooting tips, general principle of exposure, specialised tips for architectural photography)

Posted in Photography, Photography techniques with tags , on July 18, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I have written a Photography tutorial in pdf format.

In this tutorial, I have compiled technical tips from two reference books: Digital Exposure Handbook by Ross Hoddinott and Architectural Photography by Adrian Schulz.

This tutorial compiles tips for shooting photographs. Digital post-processing of images will be covered in a separate document.

The first part explains the general principles of exposure, the second part contains tips specific to architectural and interior photography because that is what I mostly do so far. Later versions may include specialised tips for other type of photography.

I very much hope this tutorial will be useful to many people, however, it took me a lot of work to write it therefore all content is copyrighted to me. You are welcome to use the information, quote etc… but please refer to the source as:

Please give this above link, not the link of the actual document you took because the general link will always contain the latest version of the document.

Many thanks and have a good read!

Robert Polidori on his work

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Photography, Photography: subjective documentary with tags on March 6, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

In a book surveying his career ‘Points between… up till now’, Robert Polidori discusses interesting issues in the introduction.

His interest in interiors started in 1987 when he photographed several New York flats whose owners had recently died and that had been looted. He says ‘On one hand, I came to consider the remaining objects as exteriorizing the personal identity and ideals of the dead individuals, yet on the other hand, these same objects, carefully accumulated over a lifetime, had now become a valueless heap of trace detritus for all the rest of us to wilfully discard (or vandalize). […] I perceived the rooms and their objects as some sort of sociological/psychological Rorschach test. I was convinced that there was something intrinsically historic and psychic about the subject matter that should be captured for posterity. Upon further reflection I came to regard the implications of the scene as being evocative of the human condition in general.’

In 1994, he photographed buildings destroyed by the Lebanese Civil War. An old lady guided him through ruins and asked him ‘Do you feel able to take beautiful and pretty pictures of all this?’ He places this lady’s ‘dare’ (his own word) at the heart of the controversy surrounding his work. ‘My work has often been criticized as somehow lacking integrity because I transgress ethical principles by rendering tragic or violent situations as artificially “beautiful”. This “aestheticizing” is considered to be conceptually disturbing since, some argue, it brings a viewer to an experience by which realities and their causes are ultimately trivialised and misrepresented.’ On the particular reproach that his New Orleans pictures did not capture explicitly enough the government’s failure to properly maintain the levees, he says ‘a photographer cannot, after-the-fact, visually capture the long expired preceding moments, causal links or the far remote spatial tangent of a scene.’

He states his favourite subject is ‘the psychological implications of the human habitat (the room)’ and links this to his ‘phenomenological interest in wanting to know what makes something or somebody tick’. He explains: ‘though most of my photographs are devoid of the human form, I have actively sought out rooms where the interiors were substantially and meaningfully filled with traces of human interventions. I consider these traces as being imbued with iconic references to what Carl Jung called the human psyche’s Super-Ego.How one wants to be perceived by oneself and others is infinitely more interesting to me than how one might happen to look.’

He explains that, while he had long ago abandoned the ‘intellectual notion of the existence of God’, the experience of photographing Chernobyl caused him to contemplate ‘the futility of Hope as a certainty’, and ‘the eventuality of foregoing the emotional crutch of brighter possibilities was infinitely more painful’.

About his feelings while photographing painful places, he explains ‘whenever the question comes up, I always answer that I feel nothing when I make these types of photographs. I feel before and after, but while executing them it is my belief there is only time to accurately act and react. I try to preload my emotions ahead of time but I don’t readily call upon them when I shoot. I want them to be instinctual yet non-conscious. Like surgeons in the operating room, the technical imperatives of photography demand complete mental acuity and a concentration that should not be disrupted by any background noise.’ I found this statement fascinating because it perfectly describes how I feel when I take my own photographs: you have to be completely focused on the act of seeing things, and you have to do the work not only well but quick because there is only a limited amount of time during which you can sustain the required depth of concentration.

Photographers of post Katrina New Orleans

Posted in Photography, Photography: subjective documentary with tags , on March 6, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

After being so fascinated by how Robert Polidori photographed ravaged interiors in his ‘After the flood’ series, I looked into other photographers of post Katrina New Orleans in order to find out how they each approached the subject, dealt with the ethical implications, and what aesthetic choices they made.

Seesaw magazine presented ‘Remnants’ by Wyatt Gallery and ‘After the Cry’ by Will Steacy.

I like the colours, depth and shadows in Wyatt Gallery’s photographs.

'Remnants' by Wyatt Gallery

Will Steacy adopts a more documentary perspective, focusing on heaps of debris and a near scientific study of molds. He is interested in environmental concerns.

In his photo essay In the Wake of Katrina, Larry Towell adopts the trademark Magnum B&W documentary style. Some pictures devoid of people have a strong haunting quality, particularly long branches and debris near the Mississippi shoreline, a stuffed fox in a glass tank escaped from a museum or collection and a flooded cemetery with the trees and tombs reflected in the water (You need to watch the whole essay on the provided link, I cannot embed particular photos from a flash presentation).

In In Katrina’s Wake: Portraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster, Chris Jordan mostly adopt a documentary ‘outdoor’ perspective but a few pictures convey a more aesthecized and disturbing perspective.

I found this ‘Baptist Church, Lower Ninth Ward’ particularly amazing.

Jane Fulton Alt is both a photographer and a social worker. Her photograph series ‘Look and leave’ was taken while she accompanied displaced Lower ninth Ward residents revisit the ruins of their former home as a volunteer worker on the ‘Look and leave’ program. The photographs are accompanied by narrative about the reactions of the people who visited their destroyed homes, but these people do not appear on the photographs. Only empty homes and personal belongings are shown. She comments ‘As a photographer, I prefer to let pictures speak for themselves. But as a social worker, I know that there are some images that stories can illuminate.’ She makes a point that the pictures were not taken while the residents visited their destroyed homes, but on her own after her social worker shift has ended. It is interesting how her perspective as a social worker influence her vision as a photographer, yet the two activities are kept formally distinct. (Again follow the link, the pictures don’t embed.)

John Woodin was raised in New Orleans. A year before Katrina, he photographed his childhood neighborhood and the interior of the homes of his family, focusing on the architecture of the ‘working poor’. After Katrina, he came back and took pictures of the exact same locations. (follow link for portfolios ‘City of memory’ and ‘After the flood’, I cannot embed pictures from a flash presentation.)

In ‘Color of Loss’, Dan Burholder uses HDR (High Dynamic Range) to picture interiors devastated by Katrina in great details despite the darkness. The photographs are supposed to look like paintings. However I find them rather disappointing because I feel the HDR process is taken too far. Moderate HDR enhancement can look striking, but here, the shadows are completely obliterated and most pictures have a completely even lightness on their full surface. To me, the colours appear both saturated and washed out because of this even bright quality to them. The total absence of shadows combined with a choice of lens giving a distorted perspective in some of the pictures cause the feeling of a total loss of the sense of space, at least to me as a viewer. It is possible that the HDR process was taken a bit too far due to over enthusiasm for a back then new technique.

Portrait of Neglect by Debbie Fleming Caffery consist in B&W photographs of displaced residents and ravaged places. There is a striking picture of plaster hands from a statue in front of a wall with peeling pain, but again, I can’t embed from a flash essay.

There are more close up portraits in Debbie Fleming Caffery’s series than in any other work considered. I find it darkly ironic that the work of Robert Polidori has been attacked as immoral for being too anaesthetized, and the documentary work of other people, for example Alec Soth, is sometimes judged dubious for having a too ‘poetic’ perspective. Documentary photography is never neutral, it always shows as much the photographer’s perspective as the events depicted, and it is even clearer when comparing the work of several photographers on a same subject.

As a viewer, Debbie Fleming Caffery’s close up portraits are the only Katrina pictures that made me feel uneasy. Though I’ve never done portraits myself, I’m always fascinated with portraits where the subject is given the opportunity to try and show themselves as they wish to be seen, such as Diane Arbus. Of course, they most of the time will project a different image as intended, or let something slip, but that’s the interest of it, the subject cannot fully control the photograph any more than they can fully control their life, any more than the photographer themselves can fully control the picture they’re taking. But at least the subject is given an opportunity, they’re given power, and the photographer takes some kind of risk than their subject may subvert the picture. I find it exciting that, because there are different inputs to the picture, the result is uncertain. With ‘candid’ portraits showing expressions with a lot of pathos, I don’t think I’m so much made uneasy by looking at people suffering, than by being presented with a picture carrying a label of ‘raw emotion’. It’s almost like the picture carries a label ‘this a truth! this person is not performing for the camera!’. But I only see the finished picture, I cannot see how it was taken, and it is still possible that the subject performs. It’s only my subjective experience as a viewer, but I think what makes me most uneasy with ‘candid’ pictures, is that they give me the impression that the photographer is denying presenting a viewpoint.